Jo’s Boys – reading the first edition knowing Louisa was alive

Look at what I got at The Barrows in Concord!

jo's boys 1886 aunt jo's scrap bag shawl straps 1872 combined

New meaning

This is the first time that I’ve acquired first editions of Louisa May Alcott’s books. Knowing she was alive when these books were published adds another layer of meaning to the reading. I feel myself transported back to 1886, catching up on the adventures at Plumfield.

jo's boys 1886 edition frontpiece

A poignant reminder

The book begins with a touching preface:

“… To account for the seeming neglect of Amy, let me add, that, since the original of that character died, it has been impossible for me to write of her as when she was here to suggest, criticise, and laugh over her namesake. The same excuse applies to Marmee. But the folded leaves are not blank to those who knew and loved them, and can find memorials of them in whatever is cheerful, true, or helpful in these pages.”

The waning years

jo's boys 1886 edition louisaJo’s Boys was written over a seven year period as Louisa’s health was poor. By the time the book was published, she had moved out of her Boston address at Louisburg Square and was residing at Dr. Rhoda Lawrence’s rest home in Roxbury. Plagued with exhaustion from overwork, stomach trouble and difficulty swallowing among other ailments, Louisa had shrunk to a shadow of herself. A woman of 54, she looked much older in her pictures.

Remembering when

With this in mind, I was struck by the description of Nan in Chapter One, “Ten Years Later.” Nan was the character most resembling Louisa in her girlhood. She was even referred to as “giddy gaddy.” There was a wistful longing in the writing as Louisa recalled her own vigorous youth. It became clear to me that Louisa was describing the antithesis of her own sad situation (italics are mine to illustrate):

“Nan was a handsome girl, with a fresh color, clear eye, quick smile, and the self-poised look young women with a purpose always have. She was simply and sensibly dressed, walked easily, and seemed full of vigor with her broad shoulder well back, arms swinging freely, and the elasticity of youth and health in every motion. The few people she met turned to look at her, as if it was a pleasant sight to see a hearty, happy girl walking country ward that lovely day …”

Reliving her youth

Gabrielle Donnelly, author of The Little Women Letters, spoke last summer at the Summer Conversational Series at Orchard House (see previous post) on the subject of Louisa’s health and its influence on her writing, maintaining that Louisa lived out her fantasy of restored vigor in her later books. The above paragraph is a fine example.

Role reversal

Nan has no time for romance; her focus is on her career. This does not stop Tom from pursing her, but in a most unusual way. In a classic case of role reversal, Tom is the self-sacrificing one, studying medicine so that he can be near to her when he would prefer to study something else. In the opening scene, Nan was “walking briskly” ahead while Tom was “pegging on behind.” He hopes for more (so do I!) but for now they are just good friends.

Past and present

Little Men was full of references to Louisa’s past and I imagine Jo’s Boys will be too. But it will be interesting to see just how of her present is included. So far, in just the first few pages, there is much, including the fact that Jo now has “money, fame, and plenty of the work I love.”

Have you read Jo’s Boys? What did you think of it?

Do you own any first editions of Louisa’s works? How do you feel when you read them?

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17 thoughts on “Jo’s Boys – reading the first edition knowing Louisa was alive

  1. dianabirchall says:

    You know, my book “Jo on the March” is really a sequel to Jo’s Boys. I’ve just written about it here, in this post “Meet My Main Character.” My main character is Jo March (“Mrs. Jo” Bhaer)!

    http://www.lightbrightandsparkling.blogspot.com

    The “game” was started by the English Historical Fiction Authors group and I’d love to ask you to do a post too: about your own writing, if you’re interested.

    I can’t tell you how much I envy you, beginning to read Jo’s Boys for the first time, and reading a first edition! What joy and pleasure. Maybe you’ll be curious to read my later adventures of Jo, afterwards.

    All best wishes and thoughts,
    Diana

    • susanwbailey says:

      Your book is actually the reason why I am reading Jo’s Boys. I knew I had to finish the series before reading your book. I have been snowed under with reading for my other book project but I am so thankful to have Louisa to turn to when I need to escape. :-)

      And thanks for that invite, I will definitely look into it!

      • dianabirchall says:

        Really? How marvelous! I may never get my book published – but to know that it got you, the one whose passion is Louisa May Alcott, to read Jo’s Boys in first edition, gives me a feeling of such deep satisfaction!

        I have certainly turned to Louisa all my life too, and you must know from your blog there are others out there who’ve had the same response. Anyway, the post I mention is only a few questions, doesn’t take much time, and you might like to do it for one of your book projects. I noticed it focused my thinking quite a bit, just to do it as an exercise. But I’ll understand if you can’t – it is so hard and distracting to take time out for ANYTHING!

  2. I loved Jo’s Boys best of the entire Little Women series. It was refreshing to be lost in a wider field of characters than Little Women had to offer.

    I first read it as twelve year old, and enjoyed the different adventures they had. Now, being the same age as the boys themselves, I read it at a different level. It is most interesting to delve into the minds of the young men. I feel as though I am experiencing the peaks and valleys of their lives alongside them.

    I’m currently exploring Louisa May Alcott fanfiction. There is not much of it around, but I did come across one or two fairly good pieces on Jo’s Boys and Rose in Bloom on Archive of Our Own.

  3. dianabirchall says:

    Thank you for mentioning that – I’d love to read those pieces! I’m not a member of Archive of Our Own, but have just applied, so hopefully it won’t take long.

    • No need of a membership to read :) It’s available to all.

      • dianabirchall says:

        You have to apply – I just did. It’s a strange “beta” system where you must have an invite. I’m #124 of people waiting to be accepted, but the estimate is that the wait will be just a day or two. So it may indeed be open to all, but there are hurdles to joining! Never mind, it is raising my eagerness level! Thanks again for the tip.

  4. I tried applying too – about three times in fact – but have not got my email yet. Just reading the fanfiction is open to everybody, though. I was reading there just now!

    • dianabirchall says:

      Ohhhhh! I didn’t realize that! I’ll go back and check it out! (going away muttering about how technically challenged I am!)

  5. Gina says:

    I read it a long time ago and liked it better than Little Men. The closing paragraph was the most moving.

    I was unaware there was fanfic out there. I’ll have to check it out. Rose in bloom is my favorite.

  6. qnpoohbear says:

    I liked Jo’s Boys a lot. It was a lot of fun. I like Josie the wannabe actress. I must have passed on that copy of Jo’s Boys. It’s not in good enough condition for my collection but I did get the other two volumes of Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag for Christmas. I haven’t read them yet. They’re in my display case with my Little Women Madame Alexander dolls and Orchard House collection.

    • susanwbailey says:

      I’m not a serious collector so I was happy to have a worn copy. In a way, it almost makes it easier to use because I don’t have to worry about harming the book. Although I won’t turn down pages or write it, for sure!

  7. jbee says:

    I also have a first edition of Jo’s Boys. I think it is my only first edition, though I have some other early editions (including Shawl Straps). I too love having editions published when LMA was still alive.

    I liked Jo’s Boys, but not as much as Little Women. My favorite chapter is “Jo’s Last Scrape.” Now that’s a chapter obviously taken from real life! I love that she felt compelled to put all of that in there, basically complaining about fame, but in a funny way.

  8. Hello Susan, what a great blog this is! And how wonderful it must have been for you to find that edition. It’s been many decades since I’ve read Jo’s Boys and I must revisit it again! Thanks, too, for visiting my blog.

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